A ‘Privates on Parade’ for the war in the Pacific, YANK! is everything you don’t expect from the cheesy title – a cleverly-constructed and original musical about illicit gay love which avoids all the cliches and turns in some outstanding musical and emotionally realistic performances (Scott Hunter, Andy Coxon) as well as a ferocious swing-rich score by the Zellnik brothers, some nifty Lindy hop PT from the military boys in their tighty whities and the ultimate Forces’ Sweetheart and self-styled ‘Cabaret Whore‘ Sarah-Louise Young as all the women.

You could also add that there are glancing references to South Pacific, From Here to Eternity, Kiss of the Spider Woman, and a tap number directly lifted from ‘All I Need is the Girl’ from Gypsy – but none of this stops YANK! from being a well-crafted and seemingly original piece.

Hunter’s character finds a wartime diary in a San Francisco junk shop and through it develops the narrative of rookie soldier Stu – joining his first platoon and then scoring a job as roving reporter for the Army’s propagandist magazine, Yank!  He develops an attachment to Coxon’s Mitch, a Jersey boy who’s popular with the guys and becomes first protector then furtive lover. The romance is handled with care and credibility, and both actors play it to perfection.

Inevitably, someone is caught for his misdemeanours and in a moment of mature restraint you’d never get from Lloyd Webber or Stiles and Drewe, Joseph and David Zellik stage his interrogation and internal dialogue in a long scene without a musical number.  This gives it even more power.

Niggles – the haircuts aren’t authentic, and the flamers quoting the women in Gone With The Wind are hilarious but far too modern. Somebody talks about ‘winning the lottery’ although the US didn’t have them till 1964.  Costumes, lighting and band are all first rate but the set is cheap and crudely imagined.  A bit of projection might help with the sense of place. Pace is an issue – the advertised 2 hours 20 is currently 2 hours 35 and you could snip it a bit.

Both principals are excellent, Coxon looks every inch the leading man, but such is the way of the business I was already thinking how it might be cast for the West End and which brave soap star would take it on in order to put bums on seats.
until 19 August